Culture ~ An Identity
While Cheryl is the main moderator of this blog, her husband makes contributions from time to time especially when they are traveling and post daily. Currently, from their home-base in California, he hopes to produce one of the following such articles every few weeks or so sharing his unique perspective.
In Norman’s Words…
The main focus will deal with culture as it relates to me and how I have been shaped by it. This series of articles will be based on opinion. My opinion. I am not an expert on the subject and so these articles will not be based on studies, surveys, data, writings sources, or conclusive or exhaustive examinations of the subject. My opinion is solely based on over six decades of observation and living through some of history’s most memorable events and some of mankind’s highest (and lowest) achievements. My opinion is shaped by my exposure (as an American) to local, national, and international events as well as to my efforts to try to educate myself and go further in seeking unbiased, accurate information wherever I could encounter it.
I feel very fortunate to have been born at the time that I was because (so far) my existence has encompassed a vast and fascinating period of history that has seen events and conditions that may never (and some, hopefully, will never) occur again. I realize that everyone can look back at their lives and say, “I remember when…”. But I feel that people of my generation and older have had a unique experience. An experience that has allowed them to straddle a rich period of history full of such important and unique events that few other generations can fully appreciate.
I hope you enjoy what I have to say. You may or may not agree with my opinion as we all see the world with our own eyes and arrive at conclusions by our own life’s experiences.
Who Are You?
Everyone that is old enough and has had enough life experience can tell you of the times in their lives when they became aware of certain events that changed them in some way or another. I can certainly remember events that changed me. For me, these events made me aware of or reflect on past ideas or behaviors and allowed me to embrace new ones, new ones that hopefully changed me for the better.
Having been brought up in a large family with parents that had very little opportunity for an education and a father who could only find work as a field hand, didn’t make for a life of luxury nor opportunity. No travel, nor exposure to other cultures, their language or traditions. Living through an era when being of a different culture and speaking a different language made many children feel self-conscious and belittled, was a very difficult experience. Brought up in a household where speaking Spanish was the primary language, while attending grammar school as a young child, I remember the white teachers all throughout elementary school changing my friends’ Spanish given names to anglicized versions that they found more palatable. For example, my neighbor and friend Carlos’s name was changed to Carl, Jesus was changed to Jesse, Margarita to Margret, Juan to Johnny, Guillermo to Robert, Jaramillo to Jerry and so forth. I also became aware of the attack on the language itself because at school, we were forbidden to speak it. I’m not sure at what young age I became aware that if I wanted to become accepted by a wider scope of people (by this I mean generally – white people) I had to learn and become fluent in English. As it turned out, by the time I was in high school, I was fluent in English alright. I made such a concerted effort to become fluent in English that I almost lost my ability to communicate in Spanish entirely. While I could understand my father (who spoke to me in Spanish), I could not respond to him in kind. I could only do so in English. In fact, I became so concerned about this problem that I decided that I needed to relearn my Spanish and so, took Spanish language classes.
Having studied Spanish, I gained an insight I hadn’t had before. That is, how expressive and beautiful the Spanish language is. My reawakening has given me a new appreciation for stories, songs, music, cultural expressions, and the power and beauty of poetry.
Another experience I had that changed the direction of my life was when I was exposed to people from other countries. As an undergraduate student, I joined an on-campus club of international exchange students where I learned about the vast differences (as well as similarities) of people from around the world. By the time I was in graduate school, I participated in an international student exchange program that allowed me to live and study abroad in a non-English speaking country. Although I learned many things about that culture, the real learning experience was about myself and my own culture. For me, there is no better way to learn about yourself and your culture than living in another one and looking back at your own through their eyes. You take on a perspective that you didn’t realize existed.
Culture to some people means anyone that speaks a language or eats foods different from you. But culture is far more than that. If you think about it, what makes up culture is not only the language and food, but the vast expression of a given group of people that encompasses their beliefs, values, arts, religions, political and social systems, legends, folktales, and stories. In short, it is their cumulative knowledge gathered over time and passed from one generation to another.
So, what makes up your culture? What are the most obvious things that stand out about it? And what makes you a part of it?
In the next part, “Pride or Prejudice” I’ll explore what I believe opens one up to accepting and appreciating new cultures and also, the fears and uncertainties that can keep one from doing so.